In 1980, after a couple of years working as a British spy—arranging meetings, handing over tidbits—Scappaticci joined the IRA’s internal security unit, which IRA men called the Nutting Squad. “Nut is Irish slang for the head. When the Nutting Squad found a snitch or a British spy, its interrogators typically tortured him, squeezed him for information, then “nutted” him with a pair of bullets to the brain.
Scappaticci’s history as an IRA sharpshooter gave him an advantage as an agent, and he quickly made his way to the top of the Nutting Squad. The achievement reveals either a tactical brilliance or a profound stroke of luck. The position gave him access to the IRA’s innermost secrets: missions completed and upcoming; arms storage sites; travel and security details; bombing and assassination targets. Over several years he helped foil numerous killings and kidnappings, and the information he provided to the British so dazzled his handlers that they passed it along to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher herself.
Moreover, his position atop the Nutting Squad made him untouchable. If the IRA leaders ever suspected an infiltration, they reported it to the Nutting Squad—and so to Scappaticci. If his own activities ever drew suspicion, he could simply divert attention by fingering an innocent man. Some British press reports estimate he killed as many as forty people. A former British spy handler who worked at the time of Scappaticci’s rise—a man who now goes by the name Martin Ingram—puts the death toll lower, but still “well into the tens,” including other agents. He said it all fit into the larger British strategy. “Agents have killed, and killed, and have killed,” Ingram told me. “Many, many, many people.”
I put it to Martin Ingram, the former spy handler, that in the case of Scappaticci, the British strategy had gone amok.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said. “I think it went very much to schedule.”
“So you think—”
“I don’t think, I know. He was acting to orders.”
So the British government knew of Scappaticci’s killings?
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “The one preconception the IRA had is that if you are dirty—that is, if you have killed—then you cannot be an agent.” Scappaticci exploited that misapprehension. “His best protection,” Ingram continued, “was to keep killing.”
But the Northern Ireland Retired Police Officers Association said Mrs O'Loan had done undeserved damage to the reputation of "many fine officers", and criticised the public manner in which the investigation had been carried out. Ken Maginnis, a former Unionist MP who is now Lord Maginnis of Drumglass - dismissed the report as "rubbish" and said that collusion with criminal elements helped save lives during the Troubles.
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